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Kentucky Basketball Review: Wildcats look sharp vs Saints; more postgame notes

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Reviewing the Cats who looked the best in UK’s first exhibition game.

UK Athletics

Friday night gave Big Blue Nation it's first glimpse of action between their 2017-2018 Kentucky Wildcats Men's Basketball team & an actual opponent.

Though it was, respectively, against the Thomas More Saints & both teams agreed on a no foul limit, the Wildcats looked extremely impressive.

Kentucky Forwards Kevin Knox, PJ Washington & Wenyen Gabriel, along with Guards Hamidou Diallo & Quade Green, impressed me the most. Here's my evaluation of each player, albeit against a team who didn't start anyone over 6'6.

Knox

I love Kevin Knox. If you haven't heard, he's pretty much a man-child. Listed at 6'9, 215 lbs, Knox is a matchup nightmare at both ends of the court. For those of you who are NBA junkies, or at least have above-average knowledge of teams in small markets, he reminds me a lot of Tobias Harris.

Though I think he can easily be much better. He reminds me of Harris, though, because of his build. I was under Kentucky's goal tonight & Knox went up but got fouled and came down into the camera seats. I've never felt so small in my life (and I've once stood next to Shaq).

Knox is quick enough to guard 3's but also big enough to guard 4's. He can go coast-to-coast & also finish in traffic. Add in an above-average outside shot & there's no doubt he'll be the go-to guy come March. The thing that blows me away about Knox is how easy the game comes to him.

I watched his every move Friday night and didn't notice him force a single shot. He scored 27 points and added five rebounds but that's not even the main reason why I think he'll be the closer going forward. His unblemished, 10-10 shooting from the free throw line will earn him head coach John Calipari's trust.

Pay close attention this season, I'm not sure we've ever had a quick forward like Knox in the Calipari era.

Washington

PJ Washington is a bull. Washington was the on-ball defender on the first few inbounds plays & the intensity he brought, especially with it being just an exhibition game, was ecstatic. At 6'7 he's slightly undersized against PFs but in today's modern "position-less" basketball, I think he'll be fine.

His motor at both ends of the court makes up for his size to where he's able to play PF if Kentucky wants to go small. Washington scored 15 tonight and added 10 rebounds for the double-double. He looked great finishing at the rim & had three bullying offensive rebounds that put his toughness on fine display.

Gabriel

Wenyen Gabriel could've easily gone pro a season ago. He has enough raw talent to where I think he would've been, at worst, a very late second round pick. I noticed over the summer he'd been putting in work in the weight room & tonight clearly showed it.

Again, I know Kentucky didn't face a team full of trees or 5-star athletes. But players still have to go out & be productive and Gabriel did just that. He recorded a double-double, netting 11 points & snatching 10 boards. He also tossed two shots.

He'll have a hard time dominating minutes this season if the freshman frontcourt excels the way they're expected to but he'll also be someone Calipari can rely on in big games. If Gabriel can be more disciplined as the season goes on, look out, BBN.

Diallo

Diallo's motor was complimentary to Washington's. This kid is a freak. Everyone knows he recorded the highest vertical at this past summer's NBA Combine. What everyone doesn't know is how much he was barking on defense, again even in an exhibition game, and being a leader on the court. Last year's early enrollment is definitely showing as Diallo is clearly the defensive quarterback when he's on the court. He also attacked ruthlessly at the offensive end, scoring 12 points and grabbing three offensive rebounds. If his outside jumper ever begins to fall, he'll challenge Knox & Vanderbilt as top players on the team.

Green

I tweeted out in the first several minutes that I was most impressed with Green out of the gate. Obviously Knox put on a stellar show with little effort but the outside shots Green was able to hit and some of the soft passes he dished off to his teammates caught my eye.

Green shot 3-4 from deep and scored nine points while assisting on seven buckets while turning it over just twice. He reminds me a lot of Tyler Ulis, as he seems like he's already got the offense covered. I hope Calipari lets him take the rock and roll with it because this kid has skills.

Other Wildcats who saw the court for 10+ minutes were Nick Richards, Sacha Killeya-Jones & Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Richards clearly towered over everyone; he even had a few soft baby jump hooks and scored 14 points. As a guy who obsesses over 80's basketball, that was a joy for me to watch. However, he could add some girth as other 7-footers will dominate him on the boards (Richards had just three total rebounds tonight).

Killeya-Jones is a four-year player. Or at least he should be. I love his size & believe he's a future JaVale McGee if he gets a shot in the NBA. However his discipline & offensive game need work if he wants to go past that goal. He had two turnovers in the paint and scored just four points. Though, he did pull down five offensive rebounds and eight total for the game. His 0-3 FT shooting is also a concern, as Cal will likely shy away from ever playing him late in close games.

Alexander actually played the third most minutes (27) but was rather raw on the offensive end of the court. He had four dimes but also three turnovers. He scored just nine points & added five boards. Though, his length is rather exceptional as he had four steals & was a nuisance with his on-ball defense.

Overall, I was extremely pleased with how exceptional the Wildcats played tonight. I'll probably get grilled for saying this following a win over an undersized team in an exhibition game... but I believe Kentucky will finish top-5, if not first, in both transition offense & total defense. Their athleticism, length, speed & strength at both ends of the court is impeccable. They'll struggle shooting from outside, at least at first, but they'll make up for it by playing exceptional defense, getting out & running for easy buckets. This will be one of Calipari's more athletic, deeper teams and I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to cover them and see how far they can go this season.

Here is a look at the postgame notes, courtesy of UK Athletics:

  • This was Kentucky’s first exhibition game of the season.
  • The Wildcats will be back in action Monday at 7 p.m. ET inside Rupp Arena against Morehead State for the Kentucky Cares Classic.
  • The Kentucky Cares Classic will help raise funds for those affected by the devastating hurricanes in Florida and Puerto Rico and wildfires in California.
  • The game will not be televised.
  • This was Kentucky’s first ever exhibition game against Thomas More.
  • This was the first game of the season for both teams.
  • There were no foul outs in tonight’s game.
  • Tonight’s attendance at Rupp Arena was 19,736.

First-Half Facts

  • Kentucky used the starting five of Quade Green, Hamidou Diallo, Nick Richards, Kevin Knox and PJ Washington.
  • This was the first time the Wildcats have started five freshmen since the 2014 National Championship game vs. UConn on April 7, 2014.
  • The starting five that night was Andrew Harrison, Aaron Harrison, James Young, Julius Randle and Dakari Johnson.
  • Kentucky scored first to start the game with Knox finishing an alley-oop pass from Diallo.
  • At the first media timeout (15:39) the Wildcats held a 13-6 lead thanks to back-to-back 3-pointers from Green.
  • Thomas More recorded its first rebound in the game with 13:29 left in the half.
  • Thomas More called a timeout with 13:43 left in the half facing a 15-point deficit (21-6), but responded with an 11-2 run to force a UK timeout at 11:06 with UK’s lead cut to six (23-17).
  • The Wildcats responded by regaining a 20-plus point lead as part of a 15-0 run.
  • UK held Thomas More without a field goal for 10:57 (0-for-15) in the first half before a TMU layup with 0:09 left in the half.
  • Kentucky ended the first half on a 30-13 run to take a 53-30 lead into the locker room at halftime.
  • UK outrebounded the Saints 28-13 in the first half.
  • The Wildcats dominated the specialty stats in the first half, holding a 22-14 edge in points off turnovers, 17-5 lead in second-chance points and 30-6 advantage in points in the paint.

Second-Half Story

  • Kentucky started the second half with Diallo, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Knox, Wenyen Gabriel and Washington – a different starting five than the one that started the game.
  • The Wildcats outscored Thomas More 50-31 in the second half.
  • UK shot an impressive 60.6 percent from the field in the second half, going 20 for 33 from the field.
  • Kentucky surpassed the century mark at 0:51 in the second half, marking the seventh straight exhibition game that UK has surpassed 100 points dating back to the 2013-14 season.
  • UK held Thomas More without a field goal for the final 4:12 of the game.
  • TMU scored 21 of its 61 points off free throws.
  • After 12 turnovers in the first half, the Wildcats had just five turnovers in the second half.

Team Notes

  • Kentucky shot 55 percent from the field in the game, going 38 for 69 overall. The Wildcats were 5 for 16 from long range for 31 percent.
  • Since their first basket of the game, the Wildcats never trailed. The two teams were tied at 2-2 early in the game with the Wildcats leading for 39:09.
  • The Wildcats had 12 dunks in the game: Knox – 5, Richards – 2, Washington – 2, Gabriel – 1, Diallo – 1 and Gilgeous-Alexander – 1.
  • UK won the specialty stats overall, holding a 34-19 advantage in points off turnovers, 26-9 lead in second-chance points, 26-22 edge in bench points, 58-14 advantage in points in the paint and 26-2 lead in fast-break points.
  • The Wildcats forced 22 turnovers with 11 steals.
  • Kentucky had seven blocks to Thomas More’s zero.
  • Thomas More hit just 16 field goals in the game for 29.6 percent from the field overall, including going 8 for 25 from long range.
  • The Wildcats outrebounded TMU 49-26, including 20-13 on the offensive glass.
  • UK’s largest lead in the game was its final lead of 42 points.
  • Kentucky played 11 players with five scoring in double digits. No UK player played more than 29 minutes in the game.

Player Notes

  • Kevin Knox paced all scorers with 27 points, going 8 for 12 from the field, 1 for 4 from 3-point range and 10 for 10 from the free-throw line.
  • Knox added five rebounds in 28 minutes of play.
  • PJ Washington posted a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
  • Washington went 6 for 12 from the field and 3 for 5 from the free-throw line.
  • Washington had one block and one steal.
  • Nick Richards earned 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting with three rebounds, adding one block and one steal.
  • Hamidou Diallo scored 12 points with four rebounds, three assists, two steals and one block.
  • Wenyen Gabriel had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
  • Gabriel went 5 for 10 from the field.
  • The sophomore added two blocks, one assist and one steal.
  • Quade Green scored nine points with a game-best seven assists.
  • Green went 3 for 5 from the field with all three baskets coming from long range.

For more updates on the Kentucky Wildcats Men's Basketball team, check back at ASeaOfBlue.com or on Twitter with @ASeaOfBlue and @MonJorgan.